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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Yesterday, I blogged about how bad I felt – despite doing nothing wrong – not being able to fast due to my knee injury. Well, I talked to my doctor, and he gave me a different anti-inflammatory medicine that would allow me to safely fast and still treat my knee injury.

So, today I am fasting: Yes, I am thirsty as I write this; yes, I am tired from having to wake up early and eat something before I took my medicine; yes, I can’t wait for the sun to set…

But, I feel totally awesome inside. There is something to this fasting, and whatever it is, it is absolutely wonderful.

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It is no secret that I have approached this year’s Ramadan fast with an enormous amount of dread. I worried about the hot weather, the long days, the difficulty of having to forgo the things I love to do – eat and drink – for an extended period of time. And as the month started, the fast was – admittedly – quite difficult. But, I did it anyway, because it is one of the things I do for my Lord.

Over the last six weeks, I have been battling a knee injury that I must have sustained while jogging. I suffered through the pain, thinking that it will eventually go away, especially since I am not exercising during Ramadan. The pain, however, did not get better. It has, in fact, gotten worse. So much so, that I went to the Emergency Department yesterday to get it evaluated. I could barely walk into the ED yesterday.

Thank God, everything checked out OK, but I was still in pain, and so – thank God – my Orthopedic Surgeon could see me right away. He injected my knee, which gave me some relief, and I got an MRI which showed some soft tissue inflammation. My surgeon told me that I have to rest and ice the knee as well as take round -the-clock anti-inflammatory medicines.

And this meant having to break my fast to take the medicine. I was hesitant at first, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And my family really pushed me to not fast as well, seeing that my health is of utmost importance (and they are right). And so, today I am not fasting, and I may not fast the next few days either, as I nurse the knee back to health.

You would think that, given all the dread I have about fasting in August, I would be happy to be able to drink and eat during the daylight hours, if even for a short time. You would think that I would be excited to have water and yogurt and maybe even coffee again. You would think that I would be happy that I am not fasting for these few days.

You would be totally wrong. I feel absolutely miserable.

Leave aside the fact that any sudden jolt, and my knee pain becomes excruciating. I feel terrible that I am not fasting. This is not because I have no right to break my fast or am ashamed at doing so. On the contrary, the Quran directs that I should not fast if my health commands that I do not. But, I still feel totally abnormal that I am not fasting.

Not because everyone around me is fasting, and I am not. My colleagues are almost all not Muslim, and so my eating and drinking would not be out of the ordinary at all. Some, many in fact, do not even know that this is Ramadan. Yet, still, I feel weird and uncomfortable. I feel totally out of my norm not fasting during Ramadan. It is almost like my soul is yearning again to fast, even though sunset is almost at 8 PM.

I am completely surprised by this feeling. Yet, I totally can’t help it. Yes, I get tired while fasting; yes, I get thirsty; yes, I feel sleepy, sometimes. But my soul is invigorated while I fast, and now that I am not fasting, I can totally feel the difference.

God willing, my knee will get better soon, and I can resume my fasts. And whatever days I miss, I will have to make up later (probably in the short days of winter!). Yet, still – in a strange sort of way – I miss fasting, even though it is still August. Even though I can’t eat or drink until late, when I fast, my soul basks in the light of God’s Grace and Mercy, and I don’t like not being able to feel that any more.

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

This was my guest post on the Beliefnet blog, City of Brass.

As Ramadan approached, I had no small amount of dread. Fasting, of all the ritual practices of Islam, is the most difficult for me to do. I am not happy to admit this, but this is one of my (many) human weaknesses. Add to that the long, hot days of summer, and you get dread on my face and in my soul. In fact, I addressed this fear in a poetic letter to my soul just before the month began.

Now, Ramadan is here in full force, and I will just have to suck it up and fast. It is strongly recommended to eat a pre-dawn meal/snack called suhoor, and it is for good reason, too, especially in the long days of summer. But, I usually do not do so: I don’t feel well afterwards, and it makes the entire rest of the day even more difficult. I remember once during Residency, I ate gyros for suhoor, and I regretted it SO much. I had horrific heartburn the entire first half of the day, and I could not take anything to make it better. Never again, I said to myself. Mostly, my suhoor is a large heaping of water to help keep me as hydrated as possible for the coming day of fasting.

Yet, no matter how much water I will drink before the time to stop eating and drinking, it is inevitable that I will get thirsty as the day wears on. So, I change some of my routine: I stop working out in the morning throughout Ramadan. I could – theoretically – get up at 3 AM and hit the elliptical…but that is madness. I need sleep more than I need exercise, especially during Ramadan, when I stay up a little later to pray special prayers. So, no exercise for me. Last year, when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, I also skipped my Ramadan runs. And, I was still able to finish the race with a time of 5:37, thanks be to God.

Also, I frequently have “Ramadan stashes” in my lab coat pocket for after sunset: it might be a small pack of M&Ms, or – like yesterday – a piece of Ghirardelli’s chocolate, or a small chocolate bar. The Prophet (pbuh) used to break his fast with dates, and I definitely do that as well. Yet, I take it to the next level: I make a date/milk delight: I soak dates in an ice cold cup of milk for several hours before sunset. Many times, I will also add some walnuts. It is AWESOME. Things such as these makes sunset something to which I look forward, and it makes breaking my fast all the sweeter, both literally and figuratively.

One good thing about fasting during the summer is that there is a lot of time for spiritual reflection and recitation/reading of the Qur’an. And that is the whole point of the fast of Ramadan: to take away food and drink for just enough so that you can think “upward,” and reflect over the enormous blessing of having food and drink every single day and not even thinking about it. Thus, I should be motivated to help the poor and hungry who – many times – do not have even one square meal a day. And suprisingly, many said people are right here in the United States.

And, Lord, are there blessings in Ramadan. Everything seems to go much more smoothly during Ramadan. In fact, many of the most important things in my life have happened during Ramadan. My medical school interview was during Ramadan: I was accepted three months later. I had a very important high school track meet during Ramadan also. My coach told me that, in order for our team to win first place, I had to throw the shot put 42 feet at least: my distance was 42 feet and six inches. Just yesterday, coming home from vacation, the airport security experience was the easiest ever. Yes, I have to not have my coffee in the morning, but there are so many good things that come with the month of fasting.

All in all, Ramadan is a very good thing, but it is not without hardship and dread on my part. All I can do is fast to the best of my ability, try to clean up some of the bad habits I have learned throughout the year, polish my spirituality and improve my ritual practice, and pray that the Precious Beloved Lord accepts my efforts. Knowing how Beautiful He is, I am confident He will do just that.

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass/2011/08/ramadan-realities.html#ixzz1UY3P8qHX

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It was no secret that I approached the month of Ramadan with a large amount of fear and dread (along with shame). Now that Ramadan will be in the summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) for the next six to ten years, I am scared about the very long, very hot days and fasting. Normally, I like summer…when I’m fasting during it, however, it is a little tough. Thus, I was scared.

Well, it is now Ramadan 2, and I’m still here. I made it! Yeah, it was a little hard to wait until 8:11 PM to eat and drink. But, after all was said and done, it was not that bad. Now, I did have the option of breaking my fast yesterday as I was traveling. But, I decided (with much goading and encouragement from my wife) to fast anyway.

Yeah, I could have really used a cup of coffee in the airport; yeah, it was hard smelling those french fries that someone had bought and not be able to eat them; yeah, it was sad to not get to drink a can of diet soda on the plane. But, nothing happened. I was just fine. And I hope and pray that the Lord has blessed me tremendously for my fast.

Indeed, there are still long days of fasting ahead. Indeed, the heat of August will likely be oppressive. But, this is my time to show the Lord (and the world at large) that I love Him so much that I am willing to not eat and drink throughout the long days of August. No, He doesn’t need my fasts; He needs nothing at all.

But, I am still happy to do it anyway – even if I may not have a smile on my face at 6 PM with more than 2 hours left to eat.

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful

“Hesham’s iPod” is an occasional post about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists.

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Every once in a while, a popular musical group comes out with a heartfelt song full of wonderful, inspiring messages. One such example is “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas. When I hear songs like this, I think to myself: Why don’t more musicians sing more songs like this? Well, folks, we have such a musician: American (Muslim) country singer Kareem Salama.

I have been a fan of Kareem Salama ever since he burst on the scene a few years ago. His first album, Generous Peace, was great, with many wonderful, heartfelt tracks. My absolute favorite on that album is “Lady Mary,” which is about the Virgin Mary. It almost always makes me cry. Salama’s newest album, “City of Lights,” is even better.

This album is intended to be much more “mainstream” than “country,” so to speak, and it is. That is especially true for the first track, “Makes Me Crazy.” But what strikes me most about this album is the varied subject matter of his songs, and how each of them is truly uplifting and spiritually fulfilling. Take this line from the track “Heavenly Dreams”:

Some of us do believe/God gave us heavenly dreams

Those two lines of verse are so profound that I can write so much about it (which I plan to do). The love songs on his album – “We Could Be Friends,” “Beat In My Heart,” and others – are so pure and meaningful. Salama proves that one can sing about love and not have to go after our base nature. That is one of his strongest suits.

Yet, hands down, the runaway hit on this album is the rock re-make of “Baby, I’m a Soldier.” He originally released the song on his first album and that version was very nice. But this version is AWESOME.

The song is about war and the experience of soldiers. It tells the amazing story of two soldiers on either side of a conflict, and the amazing thing that happens when they meet each other in battle. It is such an uplifting story, and everyone – especially our elected leaders – should listen to this song and learn from its many lessons (I will write about this one, too).

The bridge of this song is fantastic: he keeps the listener on edge, endlessly wondering about what thing “shocked” both soldiers. While waiting for the answer, the listener is treated with the best bit of electric guitar I have ever heard. It moves me so much, and I have listened to this specific part of the song over and over again without tiring. I was never really a rock/country fan, but Kareem Salama has made me a convert. Moreover, he is blazing the trail of (Muslim) rock/country, and I am forever grateful for it.

If you haven’t already noticed, I placed the word “Muslim” in parenthesis because, the fact that he is Muslim is wholly parenthetical. If you listen to the album without knowing the name of the singer, you would think it is an average rock/country album. The fact that Kareem is Muslim is irrelevant. I actually performed this “experiment,” if you will, with my neighbor, and he was shocked when I told him the singer is Muslim.

But that is the whole point: one can sing “Muslim rock” without once saying “Allah,” or “Islam,” or “Muhammad.” What I love most about Kareem Salama’s work is that he is not a singer who says “Allah” in a cowboy hat. He infuses his music with Islamic themes and spirituality, and the listener does not know it. And that is also the whole point: Islamic themes are universal and in common with the themes of all faiths and traditions, and Kareem weaves them in masterfully.

I will say again what I said with Muslim hip-hop group Native Deen: Go get this album. You will not regret it.

 

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I am reviving my “Hesham’s iPod” series, which is an occasional about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists. 

I have been listening to rap music ever since my teenage years. Indeed, I do admit that some of it was not very pious or religious, and for that, I ask for God’s grace and forgiveness. And Let me insert here that the rap music of then was much better than that of today. I miss the “good old days” of hip hop, quite honestly. But, still, there has never been a rap album that has made me cry.

Until now.

Native Deen, the premier Muslim hip-hop band, just released their new album “The Remedy.” By far, this is their best album yet. I do like and enjoy listening to all of their songs, but on the previous two albums, “Deen You Know” and “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” there were some songs that were nice, but really didn’t move me. The tears, however, stream frequently as I listened to this album.

It is clear – as it should be – that the music of Native Deen has evolved. On the first album, much of the songs talked about Islam, and the Prophets, and such, but the flavor of the songs were very much flat. It also seemed a little “adolescent.” It got better with “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” with more than one inspiring and uplifting song, such as “Life’s Worth” and “Rain Song.” No track on that album, however, compared with “Zamilooni,” which featured South African Muslim singer Zain Bhikha. That song, about the Prophet’s love for his wife Khadjiah, was the best they had at that point.

That is, until they released “The Remedy.” As with every album, they always begin with a song singing God’s praises and thanks, and the song, “Bismillah” is hip, fresh, and makes you move. I am almost moved to tears by “Mercy to Mankind,” which reminds me of the kindness and compassion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “Packed At All,” which talks about preparing for Judgment Day, is quite inspirational as well.

The tears really start, however, at “My Faith, My Voice.” This song talks about not allowing the Islam-bashers and Islamophobes direct the discourse about Islam and Muslims. The lyrics of the song speak for the millions of Muslims all over the world, who have to shudder every time a Muslim commits a crime:

There’s a lunatic, goes on a rampage/Using violence, and I’m outraged/This is senseless, and it’s gruesome/Please don’t let this be a Muslim

How many times have we Muslims all said that? But they always remind us that the discourse belongs to us Muslim, not the haters:

I know what they call us/They’ll try to blame all us/But I know how the Prophet lived/And I know what he taught us/This is my faith, my voice

I can’t help but cry. It uplifts me and keeps me strong: no matter what they say about us, Islam is my faith, and my voice is what counts.

Once this song is through, the next is the title track of the album,”The Remedy.” I thought it would be a typical song about how Islam is the remedy to all of our problems, a sort of “Islam is the solution” mantra put to rap. How wrong I was.

The entire song is nothing but repetition of God’s names and the shahadah, or testimony of faith. And the rhythm of the song is so awesome, that you can’t help but bop your head. But, the sounds of their voices go straight to my heart and make me reach out to the Lord in humility and love. And the tears stream. I have listened to this track a bunch of times, and it is – far and away – the best of the whole album.

This latest Native Deen album has a little of everything for everyone. There is a song about the Companion Bilal, the first Muezzin, or “caller to the prayer,” called “Ahad,” and it also made cry, reminding me of the strength and fortitude of that great companion, who was tortured for his conversion to Islam. Native Deen has also continued in the tradition of Muslim holiday songs with “Ramadan is Here,” and this will instantly become a classic. I will definitely play this one for my kids once Ramadan starts in a few weeks, God willing.

Another tear jerker is “I am Near,” a song with great rhythm and sound along with beautiful supplications to the Lord. The boys of Native Deen also constantly remind us of the poor and needy around the world with songs like “Hungry Ones,” and “Gaza,” which is a homage to the people of Palestine. I really can’t say enough about this album, and Native Deen has truly outdone itself, making an album that appeals both to Muslim children and youth, along with their parents. My daughters and I just finished listening to the album, and we all enjoyed doing so.

Now, it is no secret that the primary audience of Native Deen is Muslims. Yet, that does not mean that this album is not good for people of all faiths. It is, at its core, a great, modern hip hop album, and one that is pure to boot. The beats and the rhythms are fantastic. But, this album also lets listeners in on the internal conversations of the American Muslim community. You want to know what Muslims are saying to each other? Don’t listen to the Islamophobes, who are – by and large – lying to your face. Listen to Native Deen.

Bottom line: Go out and buy this album. You will not regret it.

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As families gather all across our country to commemorate the anniversary of our declaration of Independence from the British Crown, I reflect over how important this day is to me as an American Muslim. More than just joining my fellow Americans in the celebration of the birth of his country; more than some time off to relax and enjoy fireworks shows with friends and family; more than just enjoying cookouts and picnics and (if I’m lucky) a round of golf. The independence of the American republic was one of the greatest things for me as a Muslim.

Let me get this out of the way: there have been many things our country has done of which I am not proud. Our foreign policy has – many times – been at odds with the upright principles upon which our country was founded. Our country has not been – and will never be – perfect. Nevertheless, this is still the best country on earth in which to live as a Muslim. I am still in love with our country as she celebrates another birthday and am so very grateful for her independence.

In no other place on earth do I feel more at home as a Muslim. Here in America, I can worship God as I see fit. I am able to worship God freely, without fear of being put in jail for my religious beliefs. Here in America, I can be more of a Muslim than I can be in many – if not most – so-called “Muslim countries.”

Indeed, things are not perfect for Muslims in America. Over the last several years, more than a dozen states have introduced laws prohibiting the non-existent “threat” of Sharia law to our system of government. Some of these laws have seemed to even criminalize the very practice of Islam itself. Some Republican candidates for President seem at ease with singling out Muslims for “loyalty tests” before they join his Administration. Studies have shown a disturbing rise in Islamophobia all across our country.

But this is not the true nature of America. These incidents, while un-becoming of our country, do not represent America any more than the actions of Muslim terrorists represent all Muslims. The true nature of America is present at the fireworks shows, where everyone comes together to watch the “bombs bursting in air” in the night; it is present at the 4th of July picnics and cookouts; it is present at the County Fairs and town festivals. And at each of those venues, American Muslims are – overwhelmingly – welcome and at home.

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I will be signing copies of my book, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry, at the Soundvision booth at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America, held in Chicago on July 2nd. Hope to see you there.

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Thank God they were caught. Two men – with extensive criminal backgrounds – were arrested on charges of plotting to attack a military processing center in Seattle, Washington. According to the complaint:

Both men are U.S. citizens and converts to Islam, according to the charges. Abdul-Latif is a felon who spent 2 ½ years in prison on robbery and assault charges. Mujahidh had been living in Los Angeles, but came to Seattle as the plan developed, according to the charges. He has no felony criminal history, although he was named in a civil domestic-violence protective order filed in King County in 2007 by his wife.

The men are charged with conspiracy to murder U.S. officers, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (a grenade) and other firearms-related counts. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler ordered them held pending a detention hearing next Wednesday. The maximum penalty for the crimes is life in prison; however, the firearms-related counts carry 30-year mandatory minimum sentences.

There are a number of important points that must be made.

First, thank God they were caught. If what is alleged against them is actually true, it would have been a heinous crime, such as that in Fort Hood, Texas. This is not the way to change policy, and in no way does Islam sanction such methods. If you disagree with our nation’s foreign policy, then you work peacefully to change that policy – not kill and maim people. Period.

Second, the men are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. While the charges are serious, we must let due process take its course. Third, it is important to point out that the actions of these men are an aberration, the actions of a criminal mind (if what is alleged against them is true). They are not representative of the Muslim community, or Islam, or Muslims in general. As the U.S. Attorney said:

These are the actions of individuals who adhere to a violent and extreme ideology and do not represent and should not reflect on the Muslim community as a whole. We hope there is no backlash here. That would not be fair or what we stand for.

Fourth, and most importantly, the plot was foiled by another Muslim. As reported in the complaint:

The complaint details an escalating plot discovered by police on May 30 after Abdul-Latif approached another man who he believed shared a radical Islamic ideology.

The charges allege that Abdul-Latif had known the man for several years and believed he could help him obtain weapons he wanted to use to attack the U.S. military because of events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The man, however, went to Seattle police. The complaint does not identify the informant by name, but describes him as a five-time felon who was paid for his efforts.

True, the informant was not a model citizen. Nevertheless, this shows the fact that – rather than being complicit in terror plots, as Congressman Peter King (R-NY) alleges – the American Muslim community is an active participant in the fight against terror. Many plots, in fact, were foiled by the Muslim community itself.

We love this country, and we are against anyone – Muslim or otherwise – who seeks to harm this country and her people. Thank God these men were caught, and if what is alleged against them is true, may they receive the judgment and justice they deserve.

May God protect our country and protect the Muslim community from barbaric criminals who would do something like this. Amen.

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Perhaps inspired by the “Arab Spring,” women in Saudi Arabia are beginning to challenge the decades-old ban on their getting behind the wheel. According to the Associated Press:

A campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving opened Friday with reports of some female motorists getting behind the wheel amid calls for sustained challenges to the restrictions in the ultraconservative kingdom.

It started after a 32-year-old woman, Manal al-Sharif, who was detained after posting a video of herself driving. She was only released when she reportedly pledged that she would not drive again.

It is about time. It baffles me as to how clerics can justify, based on Islam, that women should not be allowed to drive. They claim that having women driving may spread temptation because women will mix with men. But, this view is completely against the letter and spirit of Islam. There is nothing in Islam that says that women must remain at home and not participate in society at large, out of fear of temptation. If men and women practice Islam properly, there should be no problem at all when they interact in society.

The Prophet Muhammad’s own wife, Khadijah, was a very prominent businesswoman, and after he became Prophet, he did not mandate that Khadijah stay at home. Women were prominent members of society during the time of the Prophet, with some even fighting on the front lines alongside the Prophet (pbuh). His later wife, A’isha, even led an army during the civil war that ensued after the Prophet Muhammad’s death.

This is the reality of Islam and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. This ban on women driving has nothing to do with Islam. The fact that clerics in Saudi Arabia use Islam to justify such a repressive restriction is an aberration. It is high time for our sisters in Saudi Arabia to challenge this ban, based on the principles of Islam itself.

Although I don’t want to see upheaval where people will get hurt, I am in support of more freedom for Saudi women, and all people everywhere. Drive on, my sisters! May God help you in your struggle, your jihad.

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